Arizona mom turns to scripture to survive in Mexican jail


Nogales, Mexico (CNN) — Yanira Maldonado wept inside a Mexican jail on Wednesday.

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A devout Mormon, the Arizona mother of seven said she’s been turning to scripture to survive ever since authorities falsely accused her of drug smuggling last week.

“Reading the scriptures, reading the Book of Mormon, praying, fasting,” she told CNN. “And all the support that I’ve been getting from my family, my husband, my children, and everybody out there reaching out to help.”

A judge is weighing whether to set Maldonado free after authorities accused her of drug smuggling and alleged they found 12 pounds of marijuana under her bus seat.

Maldonado maintained her innocence Wednesday.

“I’m a good mom. I love the gospel. I’m LDS. And we work hard to have what we have,” she said. “You know, we’re not rich, but we’re very honest and we always do our best to help other people.”

The Mexican military officials who arrested Maldonado haven’t made their case yet in court.

The troops were scheduled to appear Wednesday, but didn’t show, according to a defense attorney. Hearings in the case are set to continue Friday.

Maldonado’s family denies the charges and says they’re optimistic the case against her is crumbling.

“We have high hopes,” Anna Soto, Maldonado’s daughter, told CNN on Wednesday. “So I’m just looking forward to that. Hopefully, Friday, I’m praying that she will be home and be set free.”

It’s a situation Maldonado said she never imagined when she boarded a bus last week to head back to the United States after attending her aunt’s funeral in Mexico.

“I was at the checkpoint, asked to get off bus. They were checking for drugs and I don’t know what else,” she said. “They say they found something under the seat but I never saw anything. They didn’t show me anything. It was amazing all what they did.”

Her family accuses authorities of arresting her to get bribe money.

A Mexican state official also told CNN it appears that Maldonado was framed.

Another daughter, Brenda Pedraza, called the arrest “outrageous.” Her mother was recently by her side, she said, cradling her newborn granddaughter.

“She’s just a wonderful mom and a wonderful grandma and she would never jeopardize her life to lose this, to lose her family,” she told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday.

The family relies on Maldonado and misses her, Pedraza said.

“I still need her, you know, being a new mom. I still need her advice, her guidance. We’ve heard that the minimum is 10 years. Ten years is a whole lifespan. We don’t have that time, 10 years, to be separated,” Pedraza said, choking back tears. “Please, to the officials in Mexico, please do your part and really investigate, because I know my mom has nothing to do with those illegal drugs.”

From a bus seat to a jail cell

Mexican authorities arrested Maldonado last Wednesday as she and her husband, Gary, were on their way back to Arizona.

Gary Maldonado said he believes Mexican soldiers at the checkpoint wanted a bribe.

“It’s about getting money here,” he told CNN’s “Starting Point” on Tuesday.

After testifying in court on Tuesday, Maldonado told CNN affiliate KTVK that he was feeling optimistic.

“We’re hoping for the best outcome. … We don’t think they have a case,” he said.

The Mexican Embassy in Washington said in a statement that a preliminary decision from the judge was expected soon.

Questions about arrest

A Sonora state official with extensive knowledge of the case told CNN there are questions about the arrest.

“Can you imagine?” asked the official, who was not authorized to speak to the media and did not want to be named. “A passenger by himself or herself would have been unable to carry almost six kilos of marijuana onto a bus without being noticed. She must’ve been framed.”

A regional office of Mexico’s Defense Ministry said troops conducting a routine investigation stopped the bus Maldonado was riding in and and found 12.5 pounds (5.7 kilograms) of a substance that appeared to be marijuana under her seat.

Troops turned the case over to the Mexican attorney general’s office, the defense ministry said. Maldonado is being housed in a women’s prison in Nogales while authorities decide her fate.

The Sonora state division of the attorney general’s office said the investigation is ongoing and declined to provide additional information.

Her husband was told by authorities that regardless of his wife’s guilt or innocence, he would have to pay $5,000 to secure her freedom, the family said.

He was able to cobble together the money but then was told it was too late. His wife had been transferred to another jail.

U.S. officials monitoring the case

While they anxiously await word from Mexico, family members say they’ve been turning to their church for strength.

The Maldonados are members of a local Mormon ward in Goodyear, Arizona, Klippel said, adding that church leaders at the state and local level have offered spiritual and material support to the family.

“I feel very blessed, and I feel how powerful this network is,” Klippel said.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, is monitoring the case, his office said.

The State Department has also been in touch with the family.

“The U.S. Consulate in Nogales is monitoring the case closely,” State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki told reporters on Wednesday. “They are in regular contact with Ms. Maldonado and her family, and her legal counsel, and they’re working to schedule another visit with her. The last time we were able to visit with her was May 24.”

The State Department estimates that several thousand U.S. citizens are arrested in Mexico each year.

But it’s unclear exactly how many U.S. citizens have been detained in Mexico, the State Department said.

“We don’t have the exact breakdown for Mexico, and the embassy would not have that information either,” said Elizabeth A. Finan, a spokeswoman for the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affiairs. “However, I can say millions of U.S. citizens travel to Mexico each year, and most have uneventful trips. Arrests happen every day, as you might expect with such a high volume of visitors.”

Some arrests go unreported to U.S. officials, and sometimes arrested individuals do not request consular assistance, Finan wrote in an e-mail to CNN.

“Arrest cases are not uncommon in Mexico,” she said, “and our consular officers work hard to assist all U.S. citizens who come to us for help.”

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CNN’s Rafael Romo reported from Nogales, Mexico. CNN’s Catherine E. Shoichet wrote the story in Atlanta. CNN’s Mariano Castillo, Daniel Burke, Paul Courson, Lateef Mungin and Rene Hernandez contributed to this report.



Categories: Human interest, news

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